Surprisingly, the tiniest element present in our organism is even the most affected by our daily yoga practice and, thanks to the chain reactions that starts from there, is even the one able to influence and modify our DNA, our ageing process and our health.
Our cells are in fact the foundation of our organism and they all have different jobs to do. They all have specific sizes and shapes and cells with similar structure consolidate together to create bigger parts like body tissues (muscle, skin or bone tissues) or organs (heart, liver or lungs). The latter combined together form systems and those are responsible for working as a team in order to maintain our organism healthy and alive.
As we have already seen in previous yoga post, Yoga and the Brain and Yogic response through nervous system and neurotransmitters, yoga practice is able to improve our health and wellness on a spiritual, mental and physical level. All those benefits are not only felt and experienced by the practitioner in the first place but they are also scientifically proven.
A well-written article published in April 2013 by the Department of Bioscience and Department of Tumour Biology of the Oslo University, has found genetic evidence of yoga’s impact on the immune system on a cellular level. More specifically, they studied students who took part in a weekend-long yoga retreat where they practised asana, breathing exercises and meditation taking blood samples before and after four hours yoga sessions. At the same time, they took blood samples from participants who only engaged in relaxing activities like walking or listening to calming music. Astonishing results showed that gene expression in circulating immune cells in the first group changed by 111 genes; in contrast, in the second group, it changed only 38 genes.
Definition of “gene expression” is the process that, initiating from a gene, forms a gene product, usually seen as a protein. This mechanism initiates the creation of macromolecular elements (eg. proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates, etc.) which are essential to all living organisms. It is important to specify that proteins are extremely important in our structure as they are responsible for multiple functions such as catalysing chemical reactions, acting as cells signals and creating solidity in our body (like collagen, elastin, keratin, cartilage, etc.)
Therefore, the surprising results obtained by the University of Oslo was that by changing 111 genes’ expression in immune cells, asana, pranayama and meditation are able to induce health benefits on a GENETIC level. In other simplest words, this means that students who participated in yoga sessions in this particular study changed their proteins creation in immune cells by 111 times, 73 times more than students who followed different relaxing techniques.
Another powerful study published in 2012 by Dr Helen Lavretsky and colleagues, shows how yogic meditation can effectively induce relaxation by reducing proinflammatory nuclear factor activity called NF-kB and implementing the activity of Interferon Response Factors, (specifically IRF1, which are a reversal of patterns linked to stress).
Those two protein factors are responsible for regulating the immune response to infection, the former by controlling cytokine gene regulation (produced and involved in inflammatory reactions), the latter directly limiting the NF-kB action. Unbalanced activities of NF-kB have been linked to cancer and autoimmune diseases, while IRF1 has been shown to play roles in regulating apoptosis (death of cells) and tumour-suppression.
Dr Helen Lavretsky and team studied a group of 45 family dementia caregivers, who randomly participated in 8 weeks Kirtan Kriya Meditation program or listened to 12 daily minutes to a relaxing music. Results showed that the two groups had different numbers of a gene expressed. This brought to the conclusion that people who took part in the Meditation program had a higher expression IRF1, which lead to a lower activity of proinflammatory factor, NF-kB, which induced lower immune system’s inflammatory response leading to greater relaxation. This is an impressive domino effect as starting from only 8 weeks of meditation program has GENETICALLY diminished inflaming reaction intensifying relaxed state.
Yoga has been able to modify and considerably improve our genetic expression boosting our immune system and inducing relaxation, but not only that; a recent study written by an excellent team from AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Science, New Delhi) in January 2017 demonstrate how in a 12 week Yoga and Meditation program had a huge genetical beneficial impact on a 96 apparently healthy individuals. In these 12 weeks, they have seen stunning changes in a biomarker of cellular ageing in blood. Those are extremely important as they indicate the cellular health status and determine the cellular ageing speed process. Without going into specifics and scientific details and terminology, Madhuri Tolahunase, Rajesh Sagar and Rima Dada, authors of this brilliant study and more, were able to demonstrate improvement in cellular ageing and longevity in apparently healthy candidates after following a 12 weeks Yoga and Meditation program.
Many more studies have been done in order to sustain and emphasise the importance of Yoga and Meditation as part of our lifestyle, you can see this for yourself just by searching for the words “yoga” and/or “meditation” in the most important and reliable online and free medical database NCBI.
Yoga is a powerful tool that improves all 4 dimensions of our life: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. This antique discipline is not merely a gym exercise, it’s benefits are deep and profound as they impact all aspects of our life creating harmony and vitality within our thoughts, emotions and actions. Benefits start from the deepest level that we could ever consider, our cells; expands in our organisms thanks to the nervous systems and boost our brain synapses and connection revealing a more focused, balanced and serene individual.
I am truly grateful to all the magical changes that I have seen in myself and, if you have not started yet a yogic journey I encourage you to start one, somewhere, somehow. I can promise you one thing: you will never regret it.